On June 21, 1962, Viktor Tsoi was born, a Korean-Russian rock star of the last years of the Soviet Union, who is now an icon in all Russian-speaking countries, 30 years after his tragic death.
Rocker, actor, dissident
Tsoi was born in Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg) to a Russian mother, Valentina Guseva, and a Korean father, Robert Tsoi. The singer's father's origins go back to present-day North Korea through Kazakhstan, as his family was deported to the Central Asia Soviet region during the Stalin regime.
Viktor Tsoi studied art that he abandoned shortly after to start playing rock music in the 1970s. During this time, rock was almost banned by the Soviet authorities as a symbol of “western decline” incompatible with communist ideology.
After meeting Boris Grebenshcikov, one of the most influential Soviet alterative musicians of the time, in 1980, Tsoi's career took a turn. In 1982 he created his own group, Kino, which quickly made him famous throughout the Soviet Union. Kino's first album, “45”, was recorded with Grebenschhikov's group, Akvarium. Another album, “Noch”, was recorded in 1986 and released in the United States on a double album titled “Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the USSR”.
Altogether, Tsoi composed and recorded more than 90 songs that quickly became hits through unofficial channels, including underground concerts and pirated tapes, at a time when censorship made getting tape recorders difficult.
Despite this, the lyrics of his songs spread by word of mouth, and attracted an underground audience with their messages of empowerment, independent ideas and the absence of praise for the Communist Party. For example, in the song “And from now on we are the ones in charge” (Дальше действовать будем мы) there is a stanza that says: “So we came to claim our rights: yes!” (И вот мы пришли заявить о своих правах: “Да!”).
After perestroika, which allowed more space and tolerance for alternative ideas, particularly in the arts, Tsoi and his group were allowed to officially perform and be interviewed on Soviet television.
In 1988, Tsoi appeared in a film titled “The Needle” by film director Rashid Nugmanov and which was filmed in present-day Kazakhstan. It caused a sensation for its representation of drug addiction, an unnameable issue under Soviet ideology and considered as an exclusively “western” condition, despite the fact that it affected many Soviet youths, especially after the war in Afghanistan.
The film, which also includes Kino songs, is available on YouTube:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zITfDRsruDk (/ embed)
On August 15, 1990, Tsoi died at age 28 in present-day Latvia after his car collided with a bus. His untimely death became the subject of many myths, such as that he committed suicide or that he had been assassinated by the Soviet secret services.
Thirty years after his death, Tsoi continues to have countless fans in Russian-speaking countries and communities and has inspired many people, from musicians to astronomers.
On YouTube, some videos of his songs have reached over 37 million views and some of his hits have been adapted by contemporary stars of the Russian rock and pop scene, such as the Tatar-Baskir singer Zemfira in her version of the song “ Cuckoo ”(Кукушка).
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8E7kiZzDOOU (/ embed)
DJs in Russian-speaking communities and countries have remixed and played their songs. Global Voices spoke to DJ Hem, a Tashkent native who lives in Helsinki, and has live Soviet music DJ sessions on YouTube, including a special birthday party for Tsoi on June 21. This is DJ Hem's opinion on the Tsoi phenomenon:
Группа Кино была второй питерской группой, которую я когда-то услышал, это была песня Алюминиевы Она, эта песня – как в смысле содержания, текста – каким-то, пожалуй, даже кардинальным образом скорректировала моё отношение как к року вообще, так к русскому року в частности.
Думаю, популярность Кино объясняется прежде всего общей “героической» аурой Цоя – его манера держаться на сцене, манера исполнения, голос, весь его образ … Всего этого не хватало не только на сцене. Всего этого не хватало в жизни.
Тогда это было проблемой всей страны, только что сменившей полностью курс. . Опыта жизни без героя не было. Значит, герой должен был появиться, и это произошло с Виктором Цоем.
Его лирические тексты вряд ли когда-нибудь устареют. А его песни с гражданским пафосом в какие-то моменты и нынешней российской окамакнок. Что удивительно, рок и поп-российская сцены ведь так и не породили ни одной группы, ни одного исполнителя, который бы умудрился своими условными тремя аккордами зацепить “струны души» такого большого количества людей!
The Kino group was the second Leningrad group I heard, with the song “Aluminum Cucumbers”, which with its content and lyrics somehow changed my perception of rock and Soviet rock.
I think Kino's popularity is due, in large part, to Tsoi's heroic aura: his bearing on stage, his acting style, his voice, his entire image. This was missing on stage (Soviet) and in life.
Back then this was a problem for the entire country that had just completely changed direction. Generations of people who had grown up with images of (communist) heroes suddenly experienced an internal void from perestroika. People did not have the experience of living without heroes. For this reason, a hero had to appear and that was Viktor Tsoi.
His song lyrics are unlikely to age; his songs with a civic nuance are very contemporary to the context of current life in Russia, and are still in force today. What is extraordinary is that the Russian rock and pop scene has not produced to this day any group or singer that can, with just three chords, touch the soul of such a large number of people.
Here's the trailer for DJ Hem's Tsoi birthday party:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MujpvvmjseE (/ embed)
In 2018, Russian film director Kirill Serebrennikov made a film titled “Leto” (Summer) about Tsoi's life and the making of Kino's first album in the early 1980s. The film was selected for the category of Palme d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
Tsoi is also an inspiration outside of the world of music and movies: he is an icon of the contemporary urban scene in many post-Soviet cities that sport murals, statues and graffiti that celebrate his songs. One of the most popular is “Tsoi is alive!” (Цой жив!).
In Minsk, the capital of Belarus, there is a memory wall dedicated to Tsoi in a park in the city center:
In Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, a statue of Tsoi was erected on June 21, 2018, to honor its bond with the country. This tweet is from May 2019, when protests against the Government broke out in the country and his statue became an icon of dissent:
“И больше нет ничего
Все находится в нас »
Виктор Цой вышел с плакатом «Перемен» в Алматы pic.twitter.com/tWCSiOfvlD
– Timur Nusimbekov (@mr_mysyk) May 30, 2019
“And nothing more
Everything is within us ”(Lyrics of the song Changes (Перемен) by Tsoi)
Viktor Tsoi came out to protest in Almaty with a sign that says “Changes”
Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, also has its own Tsoi wall as you can see in this video:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVCgPYS-8hQ (/ embed)
Tsoi has even inspired astronomers at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in Nauchnij, who named asteroid 2740 Tsoj in his honor.
There is no doubt that his lyrics will continue to inspire new generations of fans, that people still memorize the lyrics, and that Russians around the world quote and use them in everyday life. Among the best, there is the song “A pack of cigarettes” (Пачка сигарет):
Я сижу и смотрю в чужое небо из чужого окна
И не вижу ни одной знакомой звезды.
Я ходил по всем дорогам и туда, и сюда,
Обернулся – и не смог разглядеть следы.
Но если есть в кармане пачка сигарет,
Значит все не так уж плохо на сегодняшний день.
И билет на самолет с серебристым крылом,
Что, взлетая, оставляет земле лишь тень.
Sitting and looking at a foreign sky from an unknown window
I don't see a family star
I walked all the roads, here and there,
I turned around, and I couldn't find my tracks.
But if you have a pack of cigarettes in your pocket,
then things are not so bad for today.
And an air ticket to sit on a plane with silver wings
That when taking off, it leaves nothing more than a shadow on the ground.